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BeingA MacGuffin: How to Preserve the Desire to Think

Author(s): HANS BLUMENBERG and David Adams


Source: Salmagundi, No. 90/91 (Spring-Summer 1991), pp. 191-193
Published by: Skidmore College
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40548278 .
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Being- A MacGuffin:
How to PreservetheDesiretoThink
BY HANS BLUMENBERG
(Translated
byDavid Adams)
of thefilmworld,"MacGuffin"circulates
Amonginhabitants
is needed.Witha winkoftheeye,they
likea wordforwhichnodictionary
either.
understand
thatitwouldnotbe foundin a dictionary
in1966ofthedialoguebetween
Alfred
Hitchcock
Theappearance
themastersofthe"thriller"
andFrancoisTruffaut,
film,madeitpossible
had asked
is. Truffaut
forthewholeworldto knowwhata MacGuffin
Hitchcockaboutitand hadreceiveda directanswer.
oftheanswermustbe emphasized.Itcouldjust
The directness
sincethemagician'sexistenceis alwaysatrisk
as wellhavebeenindirect,
is thatrevealing
whenherevealshismethod.ThesecretoftheMacGuffin
in each
its
thesuspenseabout identity
its nameonlyfurther
heightens
situation.This in turnchallengesthemasterto give visualpresenceto
without
whoselogic is hidden. In otherwords:something
something
distinction
of
receives
the
for
the
opticalsignificance.
story
meaning
In orderto give color to thisrequisite,Hitchcockinventsa
betweentwomenina train.One asksabouta packageinthe
conversation
baggagerack,and theotheranswers,"Oh, that'sa MacGuffin."To the
lions in theScottish
follow-upquestion:it's an apparatusfortrapping
are
no
lions in theScottish
"But
there
first
man
The
says,
Highlands.
"Wellthen,that'snoMacGuffin!"
andtheotheroneanswers,
Highlands,"
of theMacGuffin.
This,Hitchcockconcludes,showstheemptiness

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192

HANS BLUMENBERG

But is it adequatethatit be empty?Thenthepackagein the


wouldnotneed to
baggagerack,whichhad initiatedtheconversation,
hadtobe initiated,
becauseitoccupiedbothof
exist;buttheconversation
themfora while.
a secretis
In theMacGuffin,
onlybyitsidentity,
distinguished
oflife,
amount
condensedthatjustified
everyexpense,everyactivity,
any
ofa formula,
ofmaterial,
forthesuspenseoftheaction.A manis thecarrier
butitis
thatis supposedlyterribly
ofa sketch,ofinformation
important;
thathis secretbe revealedin the end- it is not even
not important
ifdisappointment
is tobe avoidedovertheabsurdity
ofletting
permissible,
thisthingbe a matter
oflifeanddeath.
It is bestthatthepossessorofthesecretgoes underwithit. The
MacGuffin
dimension
is anunfathomable
thatdetermines
thesuspenseof
theaction.Hitchcockcanalso conveythiswithout
hisstory,
his
through
withtheproduction
ofsuspense:"themainthingI've learned
experience
overtheyearsis thattheMacGuffin
is nothing.I'm convincedofthis,but
I findi verydifficult
toproveittoothers.MybestMacGuffin,
andbythat
I meanmyemptiest,
themostnonexistent,
andthemostabsurd,is theone
we used in 'Northby Northwest.'"In that1959 spy film,the allencompassing
questionof whatthespies are seekingbeginswiththe
declaration
thatit is theobjectof tradeof an imaginary
import-export
agency. The spectatorlearnsnothingmore thanthatit consistsof
secrets." "Here, you see," Hitchcockconcludes,"the
"government
MacGuffin
hasbeenboileddowntoitspurestexpression:
nothing."Thus
it can come to theidentity
of Being and Nothing. One realizesthat
inordertopreserve
hadandmusthavetheirMacGuffins
the
philosophers
workofthinking,
in itsresult.
as wellas interest
Thelegendary
secondparto BeingandTimewasneverwritten,
because it darednotbe written.Anyonewho has everlet himselfbe
influenced
fortheexpedition
intothecenterofBeing
bythepreparations
as itis understood
the
shudders
before
byDasein,
banalityofthatwhich
couldbe brought
to lightat theendof all existential
analysesand in the
middleoftheenchanting
"horizonoftime"circle.
Theauthor
work
ofwhatisstillthemostsignificant
philosophical
ifhe did
ofthiscentury
musthaverealizedthatheriskedall significance
notdecidetoletitremaina fragment.
itwasofcoursenecessary
To do that,

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Being-A MacGuffin

193

to
offofthefundamental-ontological
toattribute
thebreaking
expedition
thecompulsionof higherpowers. Theydemandedwithoverpowering
himselfto the fateof
urgencythathe do somethingelse: surrender
thinking.
Companionswerequicklyfoundin antiquity.Traditionhad
an intuition
thatalonestilldarklytransmitted
themintoa fragment
turned
andHeraclitusinparticular,
Parmenides
oforigin.So thepre-Socratics,
became obligatoryhermeneutic
companions;theysharedthe fateof
brokenofffromitsambitiousaims.
thought
didnotfail- the
ofBeingdiditsduty.Theeffect
TheMacGuffin
A fewwhohavenotheardanything
about
publicfollowedbreathlessly.
arestillspunaroundbyit.
theMacGuffin
ofMacGuffins
Is thisgameforbidden?
Hardly.Thedisappearance
Themeansjustify
toa standstill.
fromtheworldwouldbringitsmovement
remainder.
theunrevealed
revealedalongthewayjustify
theend;thesecrets
The answernevergiventothequestionofthemeaningofBeinginduced
and
theeffort
toquestionhumanDasein abouttheunityofitsstatements
the
itself
to
be
behavior.On thewaytherewas a delay,anddelayproved
meaningoftheway.
Thereare no lionsin theScottishHighlands.But woe to the
travelerwho doubtswhetherthereis a device in the baggage of his
thelionsthere.Fora cheapknowledge,
fortrapping
traveling
companion
hehassoldthesuspensethatmustdevelop,witha glanceatthemysterious
pieceofbaggage,inthelonghoursofthetrip.Because therewillnotbe
inthepieceofbaggageifheknowsfromthebeginning
evena MacGuffin
willlead intoemptiness.Boredomwillbe the
thattheassertedfunction
be seducedby
forone whodoes notwantto lethimself
justpunishment
of
the
the
who
holds
that
for
one
as,
meaningof
question
suspense just
better:
can
arise
a
boredom
is
(or
persist)
only yawning
Being meaningless,
fortheexpeditionintotheterraincognitaof the
fromthepreparations
of Being.
understanding
Boredomis, when the fireof all fireshas been lost as the
oftheennuiof
theremaining
ofall punishments,
optimization
punishment
thantobe disturbed.
Dasein. Foritthereisnodesiremoreurgent
Curiosity
is itsepiphany.
ofboredom.The MacGuffin
is thedisturbance

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